Cousin Dave s style of hosting the family reunion may not fly in other groups, but it surely made a hit with the Powells.
The invitation was a dead giveaway that the tradition would be updated.
Our genial host e-mailed everyone that the reunion at his home would be July 28. Each person was to bring snacks to eat on a boat ride and something to drink. Reservations would be made for dinner that evening, and for those staying overnight a selection of cold cereals was available for breakfast. Let s make it simple, he vowed. Dave is a widower. I question if his late wife, Jeanne, a wonderful cook, would have embraced his plan, but it surely worked.
Undoubtedly there are people who couldn t bear to go to a family reunion and not find Aunt Clara s chicken and dumplings, Cousin Georgia s meat loaf, and the potato salad with homemade mayonnaise that has been handed down for generations.
How well I remember preparing food for the outdoor reunion tables that were laden with family favorites, many of which could easily spoil in the hot sun. Many a time I have left for Powell and Daly gatherings quite far from home with both hot and cold dishes wrapped in newspaper, then in blankets, and maybe a rug over the top. Ice packs under and on cold food in a cooler is also a good plan, but it is always a worry. Who wants to be responsible for food-borne illness at a family gathering? Or any gathering, for that matter.
Dave s plan was not only workable, but also very well received. As the variety of finger foods increased, we decided there was not room for both people and food on the boat, so we ate on the patio. There were two bags of frozen shrimp, which thawed in less than an hour; cheese cubes; lots of fresh vegetables and dips; tortilla chips and salsa; tuna salad in whole wheat bread pockets; vegetable pizza. In keeping with the keep-it-simple plea, the dips were straight from the supermarket. No recipes to copy. No forks, no spoons, no knives; what a deal. I loved the change from our usual menus to grazing.
It took me about 10 minutes to get the food and pack the cooler for the 100-mile trip. I bought a tray of fresh vegetables with dip and two pounds of cherries. Because the local store s doughnuts were fresh, those also went in the cooler. It doesn t get any easier than that.
The Powells gather at Gull Lake, near Battle Creek, and we are forever loyal to all things Kellogg. As children we spent a lot of time at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, near Gull Lake, and each summer we looked forward to a tour of the Kellogg cereal factory, which always ended with Rice Krispies over vanilla ice cream. (Very good, try it.)
The sanctuary is still operating, but there are no longer tours inside the factory. Passing the Kellogg mansion on the lake, which is now the property of Michigan State University, is a must on boat rides. Gull Lake stretches six miles and is a beautiful blue green. We think it is the most beautiful lake in America.
The next morning, Dave kept his word and pulled out an assortment of cold cereals for breakfast. The leftover doughnuts and a bowl of blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries completed the quick breakfast.
There is one last advantage to our simple grazing plan. When it was all over, there weren t any dirty, sticky casserole dishes to deal with. You know how it goes: You shove them in the trunk of the car and only remember them days later.